This NBA officiating situation was bound to get ugly and it has.
Information is beginning to leak out that the FBI has questioned some referees about veteran ref Dick Bavetta, who happened to be part of the crew for the now infamous Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference finals between Sacramento and the L.A. Lakers which was won by the Lakers. The general belief is that the calls went in favor of the Lakers -- one of the NBA's glamor teams -- and as a result, forced a Game 7. The deciding game was also won by Los Angeles.
Tim Donaghy, the former NBA ref who has pleaded guilty to gambling-related charges and is scheduled to be sentenced soon, has alleged in a letter to the court that the officiating in a game that can only be deduced was that Kings-Lakers game was tilted toward the Lakers to help ensure more exciting games for the league. Similarly, Donaghy has alleged that a league official urged refs to officiate a playoff game in 2005 in a fashion that would have benefited the team trailing in the series. The result would be to prolong the series and materially benefit the league.
That the FBI is asking question about Bavetta or anyone else should not be taken as anything other than what it is -- investigators following up on information from a cooperating witness. No one should assume that the mere fact that the FBI asks questions implies guilt.
Meanwhile, NBA commissioner David Stern is vigorously defending his referees. But you have to remember that the Donaghy allegations are as much about alleged implied malfeasance on the part of the NBA itself as much as they address specific referee conduct. So in a very real sense, Stern is defending the very integrity of the league -- and by extension, himself.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson, whose Lakers trail the Boston Celtics, 3-1, in the NBA finals has -- apart from anything going on at the moment -- suggested that game officials be under the oversight of someone apart from the league. Perhaps to do that right now might appear like some sort admission of guilt on the part of the NBA but at some point, the league should consider such a concept.